In a brilliant rhetorical move, civil society representative Nnenna Nwakanma proclaimed in the opening ceremony of NETmundial, “My name is Nnenna. I come from the Internet.” In articulating Internet citizenship Nnenna downplays statehood and promotes an internet inhabited by global citizens, or netizens, connected and sharing a common resource – a global commons; an inspiring vision that also suggests the human rights obligation of governments and private industry to enable this vision in the future management and development of the Internet, the web, the mobile web, digital networked communications –as a public resource and utility.
One successful outcome of NETMundial could be found in the details of the outcome document, suggests Mueller, parsing the inclusion of “full and balanced participation of all stakeholders” that replaces “rights and responsibilities” language in the Tunis Agenda (2005). This could suggest that civil society might be considered to be on more equal footing with the state. In addition to the outcome document, a concerted expression of support was made for the IGF as the appropriate forum for IG discussions and that it should be financially supported (perhaps subsidised by ICANN) and made sustainable. This would help hosting countries float the forum and could provide support for the Ministerial staff, Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group (MAG), Dynamic Coalitions, Civil Society and Academic Participants.
Such a rousing start was followed by speeches from founding inventors of the Net (Vint Cerf) and Web (Sir Tim Berners Lee), followed by President Rouseff’s signing of Marco Civil and speech coinciding with a pro-Snowden demonstration in the audience.
Mass surveillance was a central concern going into NETmundial, however other general themes would carry NETmundial forward including: human rights, a global commons, multistakeholderism, transparency, privacy, development, and access.
In the weeks and months leading up to NETmundial, the Executive Multistakeholder Committee (EMC) solicited and received over 180 content contributions from civil society (including the Internet Rights and Principles Coalition statement). These contributions were aggregated and condensed into the “penultimate draft agreement” leading up to NETmundial (first leaked by Wikileaks), which sought to transpose human rights to online principles, including protection from mass surveillance with the “necessary and proportionate principle,” intermediary liability protections, network neutrality, and open interoperable standards (F/OSS). However, some of the wording articulated in the leaked document was removed or altered in the final preliminary draft that was open to annotation a couple of short days before the event (e.g., removal of “free flow of information”). How these solicited annotations were then edited into the preconference workshop draft and how the daylong preconference workgroup contributions were integrated into the draft available for the NETmundial conference proper, is unclear to me.
Transparency in the process
Unlike most IGFs, the deliberative plenary process at NETmundial encouraged stakeholders to line up into four lines behind microphones according to their respective stakeholder identities and provide concrete suggestions on the outcome document (see: Netmundial transcriptions).
However, the criteria for accepting suggestions on an article and the process of incorporating new comments by the High Level Commission was unclear. Ultimately, many important decisions, omissions, and changes occurred at the last table, where stakeholders closed ranks and threatened to veto the entire document altogether unless compromises were made. Transparency in the process was not perfect – the final cut happened at the drafting table, with no input accepted from observers in the room. No video or audio recording of the meeting took place, only still images and eye-witnesses. Nevertheless transparency understood as bodies in a room and words on a page does not amount to equal access and participation. It was striking that with all of the civil society input going into the drafting, the real power was at the last table, in the final cut.
A comprehensive study of the NETmundial process is surely underway by many who organized the civil society effort to help leverage civil society’s influence at various points throughout. There should be scrutiny into various aspects of the collaborative drafting and negotiating process to account for:
– discrepancies between drafts
– the process of obtaining consensus
– pressure from powerful stakeholders
– the process of synthesizing contributions
– basic diplomatic constraints
– coordination efforts among civil society
– the composition of stakeholders within important committees (as Robin Gross of IP Justice suggests).
Indeed, researchers are also hashing out analyses of the transformation of key language and phrasing; chasing down the evolution of a particular issue or article (e.g., intellectual property) in both the principles and roadmap sections. Although it is unclear what the influence of the nonbinding outcome document will be (in the normative sense of guiding future policy recommendations), the effort can point to productive ways forward.
Outcome and Way Forward
The panache of Brazilian coordinators, hosts, technical support, and ground crew organized by the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br) and /1Net pulled off a world class event in half a year, bringing together 1500 stakeholders from 97 countries. In spite of a compromising end result, the themes and impetus of the opening day of NETmundial reverberated throughout the conference, especially the Internet as a common good, a public utility, and a global commons rooted in the protection of fundamental human rights. The problem, of course, would be how these rights are interpreted, and how they intersect and at times compete with one another.
Another positive outcome was the experiment with a more interactive and accessible deliberative plenary process (four open divided lines to provide inputs to the draft) which included the enhanced integration of remote participation efforts, where remote participants from 23 countries were skilfully integrated into the public comment sessions. And yet, greater integration of the back-channel (twitter feeds of comments using conference hashtags) could have been achieved; perhaps by projecting the twitter streams onto one of the six contiguous screens in the plenary, and then incorporating tweets into the floor discussion.
At NETmundial, civil society could have coordinated their statements for greater impact, pursued strategic alliances, and better anticipated the positions of government and private actors and their strategic alliances; for example, Hollywood and US government colluded in support of intermediary liability, whereas Civil Society and ISPs (and IAPs) could have aligned in support for intermediary liability protections. This anticipation also involves identifying rights language that could predictably receive state support and to push for this language throughout the process. In my own conversations with US State Dept. officials regarding inclusion of rights to anonymity and to use encryption (IRP Charter 8e) in the outcome document, these officials voiced support, however these rights did not find purchase in the draft discussions and were omitted.
A welcome influence at NETmundial was the participation of the activist technical community (TOR, pirate parties, hackers), making cogent comments and contributing to discussions that may impact rights-based internet policy and legislation. Activists have clearly succeeded in doing just that with New Zealand Green Party’s introduction of the Internet Rights and Freedom Bill (based on the IRP Charter) the very day Marco Civil was signed. (Admittedly, next-day revelations of US moves to undercut network neutrality was a bit of a blow).
Going forward to IGF2014 and beyond, building greater public awareness and Internet policy literacy is needed to encourage continued digital media activism and internet rights advocacy (or “capacity building”). In this way we can ensure strong support within negotiated drafting sessions and plenaries that human rights are not negotiable.